Guest Interview – Alison Morton

Christina here and today I’m very pleased to welcome my friend and fellow author Alison Morton to the blog. She writes alternative historical fiction based on the Roman Empire, and her novels are all impeccably researched. Her latest book, EXSILIUM, has just been published, and I loved it! It’s a sequel to JULIA PRIMA but can be read as a standalone. Both these novels are set in the 4th century AD and are the historical backstory/prequels to Alison’s modern Roma Nova series, which starts with INCEPTIO (which I also recommend).

Welcome to the blog, Alison!

Thank you so much for inviting me here, Christina.

You’ve been writing about the Romans for quite a while now – when did your fascination with them start?

Alison at Ampurias aged 11

When I was eleven! I was mesmerised by a Roman mosaic floor at Ampurias, a vast site of a former Greek and Roman city in north-east Spain. I couldn’t stop looking at the beauty of the black and white pattern and the tiny marble squares. I babbled questions at my father, the Senior Roman Nut in our family: who were the people who lived here, what were they called, what did they do, where have they gone? And I still haven’t shaken the obsession decades later.

We are lucky in that a lot of Roman ruins remain all over Europe. Do you always try to visit the sites you are writing about?

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The Attempted Theft of the Crown Jewels!

The Other Gwyn Girl by Nicola CornickNicola here, delving into a historical mystery behind my latest book The Other Gwyn Girl. A number of people who have read the book have asked if the attempted theft of the Crown Jewels really happened or whether it was novelistic licence. Well, I can confirm it really did happen although the involvement of Rose and Nell Gwyn is my imagination filling in the gaps in history.

Here’s the story. In May 1671 a most extraordinary attempt was made to steal the Crown Jewels from the Tower of London. Never before or since had anyone attempted such an audacious theft although over the years various parts of the collection had been lost, sold or destroyed. King John had lost some of them in the waters of The Wash in 1215 (that’s another story!) but the most notable loss was in 1649 when Oliver Cromwell ordered them to be “totally broken” as a symbolic step after the execution of King Charles I. Some items were sold off, others melted down and only the 12th century coronation spoon remained from the medieval period.

When King Charles II was restored to the throne of England in 1660, he commissioned a whole new set of regalia from the royal goldsmith Robert Vyner for his 1661 coronation. As now, the Crown Jewels were stored in the Tower of London and people could view them by paying a fee to the custodian. In 1671 the Master of the Jewel House was 77-year-old Talbot Edwards whose domestic quarters were right next to the jewels in the Martin Tower (pic by Ethan Doyle White, Wikimedia).

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Tea, glorious tea

Anne here. Last week I invited a few friends around for afternoon tea. I got out my mother’s and grandmother’s tea sets and made a little ritual of it. Though I probably disgraced myself by using tea-bags instead of making it in a pot. I used teabags so that each person could have the strength they preferred as well as the kind of tea they preferred — one of my friends only drinks green tea and another only drinks herbal tea.

These days we take the supply of tea and a variety of teas very much for granted. But it wasn’t always so.

The use of tea first began in China, centuries ago, and was thought to be of medicinal value. A medical text describing its use was written in the 3rd century AD by a Chinese physician. Yunnan province in China is said to be home to the world’s oldest cultivated tea tree, some 3,200 years old.

Tea was introduced to Japan by Buddhist monks during the 6th century AD. It became a drink of the religious classes in Japan and Japanese priests and envoys were sent to China to learn about its culture.  The tea ceremony of Japan was introduced in the 15th century by Buddhists as a semi-religious social custom.

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A Taste Of Marmalade!

Nicola here. I have a new timeslip novel coming out in a few weeks’ time, The Other Gwyn Girl. It tells the story of Rose Gwyn, the much less well-known sister of Nell Gwyn, actress, orange-seller and mistress to King Charles II. It’s also a fun co-incidence that this is the perfect time of year to make Seville orange marmalade, so this week I’ve been busy making some celebratory “Gwyn Girl” marmalade using my grandmother’s fabulous jam pan. I have to admit that I’s a bit of an irony but I am the only person in my family who doesn’t actually like marmalade! Everyone else is very keen and the Scots ancestors have a marvellous whisky version that is even more popular.

First, a bit of marmalade history, as I always like to research these things! The word marmalade comes from the Portuguese marmelada, which means “made of quince.” The first fruit preserves were made by the Greeks, who discovered that quinces cooked with honey would “set” when they were cool. Both the Greeks and the Romans made preserves out of quince with lemon, rose, apple, pear and plum. In 1524, King Henry VIII received a gift of a “box of marmalades” from a Mr Hull of Exeter. This was probably quince paste, as was the “marmalet” that was served at another Tudor wedding feast. It was said that “marmalado” as it became known, was a favourite with Anne Boleyn.

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Happy New Lunar Year

Happy New Lunar Year. Welcome to the Year of the Dragon.
A few days ago, millions of people around the world celebrated the beginning of the Lunar New Year. To some it’s known as Chinese New Year,  in Vietnam Tet, and in Korea, Seollal. There are other names in other cultures and my apologies if I’ve missed yours out. I also apologize for generalizing about the traditions followed. In China, it’s also known as the Spring Festival, the name introduced in 1914 by the republican government. 

For those who celebrate it, the Lunar New Year is a fresh start. In the days leading up to it, houses are cleaned from top to bottom to make way for good luck to come. Windows and doors might be decorated with red paper cutouts and lucky tokens, red being regarded as a lucky color. New clothes are purchased to be worn in the new year and small red envelopes containing money will be given. (Photo by Maud Beauregard on Unsplash)

Celebrations traditionally start on the eve of the first new moon between the 21st January and 20th February, often with a big dinner with special foods, auspicious dishes and dumplings. It’s very much a family affair, where ancestors and the elderly members of the family are honored. In the days following, people will visit relatives and friends, often exchanging gifts.

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